According to a Bloomberg study conducted in 2015, Nigeria is the most stressful country in the world. Stress is synonymous with living in Nigeria and this is evident in our day to day life. From the non-existent power supply to the poor road networks and never-ending traffic, to the erratic public transportation, the overworked and underpaid low-income earners, high cost of living, the list is endless. I could go on and on! Nigeria indeed is a stressful country to live in.
Did you know that eighty percent of modern diseases have its origin in stress? It’s no wonder the life expectancy in Nigeria, is a mere 53 years old compared to 78 years old in more developed countries like the United States. Since stress has a major effect on overall health and wellbeing, it is worth exploring what exactly causes stress and how it can be properly managed to avoid associated ill-health and untimely death.
2.0 DEFINITION OF MENTAL STRESS.
Stress can be defined as the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable.
According to a medical consultant and Chairman of the Society of Family Physicians of Nigeria, Ekiti Zone, Dr. Olabode Shabi has said that about seven million Nigerians are currently suffering from mental health problems associated with stress and depression. Shabi described stress as an exaggeration of normal physical response to events and life challenges that makes a person feel threatened or upset in some ways.
When we encounter stress, our body is stimulated to produce stress hormones called cortisol that trigger a ‘flight or fight’ response and activate our immune system. This response helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations.
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Sometimes, this stress response can be an appropriate or even beneficial reaction. The resulting feeling of ‘pressure’ can help us to push through situations that can be nerve-wracking or intense, like running a marathon, or giving a speech to a large crowd. We can quickly return to a resting state without any negative effects on our health if what is stressing us is short-lived, and many people are able to deal with a certain level of stress without any lasting effects.
However, there can be times when stress becomes excessive and too much to deal with. If our stress response is activated repeatedly, or it persists over time, the effects can result in wear and tear on the body and can cause us to feel permanently in a state of ‘fight or flight’. Rather than helping us push through, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Feeling this overwhelming stress for a long period of time is often called chronic, or long-term stress, and it can impact on both physical and mental health.
Stress is a response to a threat in a situation, whereas anxiety is a reaction to the stress.
3.0 TYPES OF MENTAL STRESS
According to the American Psychological Association, the three types of stress — acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress — can all make us feel out of sorts or even ill, but chronic stress is often ignored.
3.1 Acute Stress
Our minds extend acute stress for example A recent argument may replay in your mind, keeping you up at night. Or you might keep worrying about the future, a deadline ahead. you barely miss a serious car accident.
Your heart might race and your blood pressure might rise. Your sense of emergency might trigger a migraine or even chest pain.
Other possible symptoms include irritability, anxiety, sadness, headaches, back pain, and gut problems. These may appear for a short time and subside when the stress eases.
3.2 Episodic acute stress
Some people experience these mini-crises regularly and live in a state of tension. They may be taking on too much or simply be overburdened by their lives. If you tend to worry, your body will be tense or angry.
The symptoms are similar with acute but occur more often and accumulate.
Over time, a pattern of episodic acute stress can wear away at your relationships and work.
That risk is greater if you turn to unhealthy coping strategies like binge drinking, overeating, or clinging to bad relationships. Many people also slowly give up pursuing pleasurable activities or meaningful goals.
If poorly managed, episodic acute stress can contribute to serious illnesses like heart disease or clinical depression.
3.3 Chronic stress
This is the grinding stress that wears us down over the years. It arises from serious life problems that may be fundamentally beyond our control: poverty, war, or racism.
It is important to get all the help you can and not blame yourself — blame will only grind you down further. Chronic stress feeds chronic and acute serious illness.
4.0 CAUSES OF STRESS
Major causes of stressful life conditions to include low literacy level, poverty and short life expectancy and negative life events such as bereavement, job loss, financial difficulties, divorce, loneliness, childhood abuse and neglect medical illnesses and exposure to chronic pains as well as imbibing some mentally stressful lifestyles such as misuse of certain prescription drugs and abuse of substances such as cocaine, narcotics, and alcohol as causes of depression outside the workplace.
5.0 SIGNS OF STRESS
5.1 Emotional changes
Experience many different feelings, including anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, or frustration
5.2 Behavioral changes
Behave differently. For example, you may become withdrawn, indecisive, or inflexible. You may not be able to sleep properly. You may be irritable or tearful. There may be a change in your sexual habits. Some people may resort to smoking, consuming more alcohol, or taking drugs. Stress can make you feel angrier or more aggressive than normal. Stress may also affect the way we interact with our close family and friends.
5.3 Body changes
When stressed, some people start to experience headaches, nausea, and indigestion. You may breathe more quickly, perspire more, have palpitations or suffer from various aches and pain
6.0 MANAGEMENT OF STRESS
The Family Health Consultant Shabi identified strategies for managing stress to include avoiding unnecessary stress, reducing job stress by improving emotional intelligence, creating time for fun and relaxation.
“It includes better management of one’s time, be willing to compromise, reframe problems, focus on positive things, accepting things one cannot change, sharing feelings with friends, resolving conflict positively, adopting healthy lifestyles, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, avoiding alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs reducing sugar and caffeine as well as getting enough sleep. “